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Jackson E-Newsletter Articles


Addiction: Disease or Choice?

By Dr. Thor Swanson, Addictionologist from Siouxland Community Health Center.
With special contributions by Marce Cockburn, SBIRT Coordinator
The word stigma is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary, as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something." Stigma is certainly a factor in the way our society views addiction. For many years, people who have suffered from addiction have been discriminated against due to their disease. The stigma around addiction is simply that people who suffer from this disease “choose” to drink; therefore, this is viewed as a weakness or flaw that person has, rather than as a disease that is beyond their control.
There are two models people use as foundation for their attitudes and beliefs about the disease of alcoholism or addiction: one is the disease model. People understand and believe that alcoholism is a disease and treated as such. The other model is the model of choice. People’s attitudes and beliefs are based on the idea or thinking that a person chooses to drink therefore it is more of a personal character issue-- not a disease.
Addiction Hijacks the Brain
According to the ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine), addiction hijacks the brain, impairing the decision-making functioning of a person. Addiction is characterized by “an inability to consistently abstain described as “impairment in behavior control, cravings, and a lowered recognition of significant problems (denial), along with a an abnormal and unhealthy emotional response.
People do not choose to develop alcoholism anymore than they can choose to develop diabetes or cancer, and with proper treatment, people recover from the disease of alcoholism just as they do from diabetes or cancer. Still, society continues to have unfair and negative beliefs about those who suffer from alcoholism and addiction even 50 years after the American Medical Association declared alcoholism to be a disease. In order to end the stigma related to the disease of addiction we must continue to bring awareness through information, education and celebration of those who are living a life in recovery from their disease of alcoholism.
Matheny, J. (2011, Sep 17). Time to erase the stigma of addiction. South Bend Tribune.